MOST PEOPLE probably think that there is nothing more "granola" than making your own yogurt. The phenomenon had its heyday back in the era of Simon and Garfunkel, complete with the requisite burn-your-bra wardrobe and waist-length hair. But it is a near daily ritual in countries like India, where yogurt has more purpose than to serve as glue holding together clusters of granola.
Kirkland resident Marypat Meuli, a program manager at Microsoft and committed yogurt-maker, keeps her curly hair short, which works well as she commutes to and from work on her bicycle. The countryside commune culture of the 1960’s has given way to the educated urbanite of today. Her family, including husband Jeff Larsson and second-grade son Gunnar, eat yogurt smoothies for breakfast every morning.
While the byproduct of making her own yogurt saves her family around $500 per year in purchasing costs, the savings were really secondary to cutting down on waste.
“If we’re consuming two of these per week,” says Meuli, holding up a 32-ounce plastic tub of Nancy’s Creamery yogurt, “think about how much room that takes on a palette in a truck.”
While milk is fairly easy to buy from a local source, yogurt usually travels a much longer distance using a far greater amount of fossil fuel to get to a consumer’s table.
As you can probably guess, Meuli's family avidly supports using organically produced food, shopping at a combination of local farmer’s markets, and . The turning point for them on the organic food issue happened during a bike trip near Wenatchee.
“We were riding by an apple orchard and noticed that the workers literally had to wear biohazard suits while working in the field. You can’t tell me that all of the chemicals used on that produce get washed off before you eat it,” says Meuli.
Part of the move toward organic and more sustainable food is the making of yogurt at home, and relatively little is needed in the way of fancy equipment. Although you can still buy bonafide yogurt makers, all you need is a large pot to heat the milk, a good digital thermometer, some containers in which to store the yogurt. Meuli also swears by her pizza stone to regulate the heat while the milk goes through culturing.
The process is simple.
STEP 1: Place a pizza stone (or other ceramic tile) in the oven and heat it. You want the stone to be at 132F/55C. Any higher temperature will kill the good bacteria that make milk into yogurt. Turn off the oven.
STEP 2: Heat the milk until it gets foamy, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom to prevent the milk from sticking. Meuli uses about three-quarters of a gallon of nonfat milk, but any amount and any fat-level is fine. Take it off the heat before it boils and allow it to cool down to 132F/55C.
STEP 3: When everything is at the right temperature, pour the warm milk into clean containers. Marypat uses a couple of 32-ounce plastic tubs and several smaller Rubbermaid-type containers.
STEP 4: Add about a tablespoon full of yogurt cultures to each container. Don’t let the term “yogurt cultures” scare you. Simply put, buy a container of good quality yogurt from the store (like Nancy’s Organic) and use it as your “starter,” not unlike the process for sourdough. Stir the yogurt starter in with the warm milk. Place lids on the containers.
STEP 5: Set the tubs in the warmed oven on the pizza stone and close the oven door. Leave over night or at least six hours, then refrigerate the tubs. Make sure to save one little container of yogurt to be the starter for your next batch. Meuli uses a fresh batch of cultures every couple of months.
IN AN EFFORT to streamline busy mornings, Meuli gets all the smoothie ingredients ready for two or three days in advance. She only fills the 32-ounce tubs mentioned in the third step with about 12 or 13 ounces of yogurt. In the remaining space, she adds about a cup of frozen berries. When it is time to blend up breakfast, the rest of the ingredients are added.
Marypat’s Breakfast Smoothie
Makes 3 filling smoothies (all measurements are approximate)
12 oz. yogurt
1 c. frozen berries
3 TB wheat germ
8 or 9 oz. tofu (any kind)
3 ripe bananas
¼ c. frozen cranberries (optional)
Blend all the ingredients and serve with a straw. To minimize waste, use one of the wide straws found in a typical Bubble Tea. These can easily be washed with a tiny bottle brush or even a pipe cleaner.
Meuli is a practical kind of woman who doesn’t like to mess with a good thing. That’s why she also makes her own granola, a recipe that she hasn’t altered for more than three years. Every couple of months, Marypat bakes up a new batch. The granola tops a container of yogurt that goes in Jeff’s and her lunch each day. She originally found this recipe in the King Arthur whole grain cookbook, but modified the maple syrup quantity down significantly as it she deemed it unnecessarily sweet.
7 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (800 g)
1 c. flaked coconut
1 c. wheat germ
1 c. sliced almonds
1 c. sunflower seeds, raw or toasted
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 c. maple syrup
2/3 c. vegetable (olive) oil
1 TB vanilla extract
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. chopped dried apricots
Preheat the oven to 250F (225F if convection). Combine the oats, coconut, wheat germ, nuts, seeds and salt in a very large bowl. Mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, oil, and vanilla. Pour the syrup mixture over the dry mixture, stirring and tossing until everything is well combined.
Spread the granola over two large baking sheets with rims. Your cleanup will be easier if you line them with parchment paper.
Bake for around one hour, until toasted and light brown, stirring the mixture every 15-20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool completely. Transfer the granola to a large bowl and mix in the optional dried fruit. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
So, while I don't recommend burning your bra or selling all your possessions to go kick it in the sticks, it could be fun to make something as delicious as yogurt. Next stop, homemade cheese -- but we'll save that for later.